One-Liner Wednesday: Basho on wisdom

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought.

Matsuo Basho

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One-Liner Wednesday: politicians or poets

In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.

Jonas Mekas

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JC’s Confessions #23

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

National Poetry Month Edition:

I’ve been struggling to regain my sense of myself as a poet.

This is ironic because, when I first turned to poetry as a means of self-expression ten or so years ago, I didn’t have any problem calling myself a poet. I was writing poems, so I was a poet. I remember early on reading a short essay from a person who had an MFA in poetry, had published at least one book, and was editing a poetry journal, but couldn’t bring himself to say that he was a poet because he wasn’t suffering for his art. I was perplexed.

I managed to still think of myself as a poet through the labyrinth of dealing with years of family health and caretaking issues. I was still writing and workshopping and doing residencies with the Boiler House Poets Collective and doing sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and Broome County Arts Council. I wasn’t submitting to journals as much as I should have, but I did put together two manuscripts, one chapbook and one full-length collection, which I started submitting to contests and publishers. In recent months, I have also been submitting individual poems to journals more often.

Perhaps I had forgotten the level of rejection that is inherent in the submission process. Some of the recent rejections I have received with manuscripts have chosen one for publication from a field of 800-900. I mean, do the math. Somehow, though, even knowing that the odds are not remotely in my favor has not shielded me from questioning whether I am a publishable poet, or even a poet at all.

Meanwhile, several of my poet-friends have published or are in the process of publishing their first books. I’m very happy for them and buy and help promote their work but it makes me wonder what is wrong with me that I’m only garnering a long list of rejections. What does it say about me that, when I see publication credits for other poets, I can often mentally tick off which of their presses have rejected me?

Things are better these past few weeks. The publications of my work for an Ekphrastic Review challenge and in Wilderness House Literary Review buoyed me through the latest round of journal and manuscript rejections that the spring has brought. I’ve participated in National Poetry Month projects with the Broome County and Tioga Arts Councils. Binghamton Poetry Project has been having their spring workshops, so I’ve been working on craft and writing from their prompts, once or twice a week. I’ve even gotten several unsolicited comments from my blog posts, saying that I am a good writer, which is somehow still encouraging of my sense as a poet. Writing is writing, whatever the form.

The question is whether I can keep my re-discovered sense of my identity as a poet from being buried by the avalanche of rejections that are sure to come. When I first set a goal of publishing a book by the time I was sixty, a goal that I failed to meet, I told myself that it didn’t matter if I ever published a book. After all, it’s not that I write for a living.

It would be best if I can get back to concentrating on reaching people with my work within my community sphere. I do consider myself to be an accessible, community poet. If I can do that, then I could look at publishing in a broader context as a bonus if it happens, not as a measure of my worth as a poet.

Please remind me when I am in doubt again.

Wise words from Ada Limón

Poet Ada Limón gave a great reading last night under the auspices of the Binghamton Center for Writers as part of their Distinguished Writers Series.

During the Q&A, she said something that I want to remember – I’m paraphrasing here – that what makes you a writer is not writing every day because some days we are called to read or be with family or take walks, that even if we need to take a break from writing for six months or six years, we are still writers.

Given the massive holes I have experienced with my writing, and especially with my poetry, I found this very comforting. While I have been working on writing more and have gotten five submissions in so far this week, I do have days where I can’t face writing at all. I appreciated the reminder that that is okay.

I recommend listening to the reading and Q&A at the link above. There were some technical difficulties midway through which I’m not sure are on the recording. If you hit a patch where nothing is happening, just go forward about ten minutes and enjoy the second half.

SoCS: poetic concentration

These past few weeks may be the highest concentration of posts about poetry that I have ever done here at Top of JC’s Mind.

By coincidence, I’ve been involved with several readings and anthology launches in recent weeks.

Well, it may be coincidence or it may be that it was because April is National Poetry Month here in the US, although only some of the poetic activities were connected to Poetry Month.

I’m actually expecting to have several more poet-y posts coming up over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

If nothing else, the poetry posts break up the political ones. 😉

While this may be shameless, I will close with my favorite recent poetry post link: https://topofjcsmind.wordpress.com/2021/04/19/natl-poetry-month-celebration-with-me/. It was my first time as a featured poet in a reading and I’m still super-excited about it.

You may be thinking, but I don’t understand poetry. I promise that I am not inscrutable, though, so maybe you can give it a try! If you do, I hope you enjoy!

(And, yes, it may be cheating to use SoCS to promote other posts. If so, my apologies to Linda.)

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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “may.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/04/30/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-1-2021/

a new chapbook from Merrill Oliver Douglas

I wanted to share the news that a local poet-friend Merrill Oliver Douglas has a new chapbook available for pre-order at Finishing Line Press. You can order here: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/parking-meters-into-mermaids-by-merrill-oliver-douglas/

It was my privilege to participate in a manuscript review with Merrill and want to share that her work is both accessible for the general public and nuanced for those who enjoy the craft of poetry. You can read samples of her work at these links:
http://south85journal.com/issues/fall-winter-2016/fall-winter-2016-poetry/bereft/
http://baltimorereview.org/index.php/spring_2016/contributor/merrill-oliver-douglas
https://www.connotationpress.com/poetry/2370-merrill-oliver-douglas-poetry

And, seriously, who wouldn’t want to own a chapbook entitled Parking Meters into Mermaids?

I don’t know I don’t know; or, On Writing a Chapbook: The Story of Being Many Seeds

A fascinating look into the mind of poet Marilyn McCabe as she crafted her chapbook “Being Many Seeds” both as a print and an audio/visual experience. Check it out!

O Write: Marilynonaroll's Blog

So with the birth of a new collection of poems, I thought I might share the backstory, as the poems came together in an unusual way, for me.

The poems in this book began as a monthlong exercise in imitations. Each day I’d choose a poem from a literary magazine or book of poems I had lying around, and I’d try to do a word-for-word imitation, but trying often to use opposite words. That is, if the poem started “One early morning…” I might say “Every late night….” I tried to choose poems that seemed unlike anything I might write: longer lines, narrative rather than lyric.

I didn’t overthink the process, I just let words rise up as prompted by the original poem, and figured whatever subject matters were lurking in my brain would arise naturally from this process. So then I had thirty or so of these, and looking…

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One-Liner Wednesday: lying

“Lying is done with words and also with silence.”
~~~ Adrienne Rich
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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/10/23/one-liner-wednesday-sunset-serenity/ 

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

JC’s Confessions #7

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert does a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
~ JC

Poets are supposed to submit work to journals or publishers on a consistent basis. I confess that I have not been doing this. Not even close. Other than a few stabs at Rattle’s Poets Respond series, which only takes submissions written within the last week on news items and is a very, very, very long-shot, I have only done one submission this year, which I did because a poet-friend asked me to do. (I am not counting poems published in Binghamton Poetry Project anthologies because they are not a competitive venue.)

Given how complicated these last months have been, I suppose it is understandable that I haven’t been submitting for publication. I confess that I find the process of figuring out to whom to submit which poem daunting and incredibly time-consuming. I get nervous about the formatting requirements, which never seem to be the same among different publications. I also need to be in a mindset that can take a lot of rejection, because the vast majority of submissions will be rejected.

The result of all this is that it is even more difficult than before to get motivated to work on submissions. Not publishing also erodes my already fragile sense that I am a poet – or, at least, a poet good enough to be published.

Which makes it harder to get motivated to submit and adds to my lack of confidence, and so on and so on…

Later in the fall, I may/will have more time to devote to writing and poetry. Will I be able to get my act together to do submissions?

I don’t know.

Stay tuned.

A Slovenian post for poets

One of the interesting things about Slovenia is that one of their national heroes is a poet. France Prešeren (1800-1849) was the first major poet to write in Slovene. His poetry influenced all Slovene literature and one of his poems is now the national anthem. The main square of Ljubljana was re-named for him with a monument erected in his memory over a century ago.
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The statue depicts the Muse holding a laurel branch of over Prešeren, but, given that the Muse is mostly unclothed, the monument was controversial, especially as the Square is bordered by the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, also known as the “pink church.” I was able to attend Sunday Mass there on our last morning in Ljubljana. (This photo was taken from across the river; the square itself was partially closed off due to reconstruction of the pavers.)
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And because many of my poet friends write ekphrastic poetry, I will close with a photo that I took in the baggage claim area of Ljubljana’s airport. I think we would all be able to write many lovely poems if we were able to visit this installation…
in Ljubljana airport
…which is called “a temporary art intervention” on this banner.

I know I, for one, could use an “art intervention” about now.

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